The Obama Legacy Part VII: The Deporter in Chief

by Danny Haiphong

Donald Trumps racist rants against immigrants have overshadowed the fact that “more undocumented immigrants have been deported under Obama's rule than any other in history” -- and that Hillary Clinton “has championed militarization and the deportation of Central American children alongside Obama.” The Obama administration laid the groundwork for Donald Trump’s immigrant-mania “by escalating the US government's war on the undocumented.”

The Obama Legacy Part VII: The Deporter in Chief

by Danny Haiphong

“President Obama waged eight years of ceaseless war on the undocumented population.”

Immigration has received a great deal of attention in the 2016 elections. Donald Trump's white supremacist rhetoric has dominated the immigration conversation in the United States. Trump has appealed to white Americans who see immigrants, and not multinational corporations, as the primary reason for the deterioration of their economic condition. However, the rise of Trump cannot be disconnected from the Obama period. The current President's immigration legacy arguably laid the basis for Trump's vile rhetoric to gain increased traction in the US.

President Obama immigration policy has been by far more the more effective evil for the US ruling class. While Trump threatens to deport "all of the illegals," Obama has framed his immigration policy as "smart." Yet the root of the immigration question, US colonial and imperial penetration of Mexico and Latin America, has never been a question of "smart" or "dumb" policy. Its roots have always resided in the plunder, war, and genocide necessary to enrich the owners of private property. The sheer presence of the US-Mexico border is a daily reminder of these roots.

The Obama Administration's immigration legacy has been drowned out by the around-the-clock coverage of Trump in the corporate media. Trump's racism toward immigrants should be confronted with the condemnation it has received from the left. However, far fewer numbers of people in the US have condemned President Obama's draconian immigration policies. Trump speaks of building a "wall" on the US-Mexico border. Yet the Obama Administration has worked hard to meet the expectations of the likes of Trump by escalating the US government's war on the undocumented.

“The current President's immigration legacy arguably laid the basis for Trump's vile rhetoric to gain increased traction in the US.”

Whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump is President in 2016, the new President will inherit an increasingly militarized US-Mexico border. In 2010, President Obama invested 600 million in border militarization, including the deployment of an extra 1,500 border patrol agents and two aerial drones. By 2012, the Obama Administration planned to spend around 18 billion on immigration border enforcement. The Obama Administration waited until 2014 to end his predecessor's "secure communities" program. This program gave immigration officials the privilege to fingerprint detainees and cross reference findings with Department of Homeland Security and FBI databases. Obama ultimately intensified the war on undocumented immigrants, which fittingly began in 1996 when then Democratic Party President Bill Clinton greatly expanded the number of crimes that could lead to forced removal from the US.

Prison corporations and military contractors have profited immensely from the deportation regime expanded upon by Obama. In addition, the war has allowed the Obama Administration to criminalize a section of the population on behalf of the low-wage corporate sector that exploits immigrant labor. Throughout his administration, Obama has made a point to differentiate "good" immigrants from "bad." Through executive actions such as DACA, Obama has promised not to deport young undocumented immigrants if they possess a strong "moral character" and serve in the military. However, none of Obama's so-called immigration reforms have scaled back the militarized, anti-immigrant regime in a material way.

“In 2009, Obama supported a coup in Honduras that further destabilized Central America.”

President Obama has earned the title "Deporter in Chief." More undocumented immigrants have been deported under Obama's rule than any other in history. In 2013 alone, the Obama Administration deported a record 438,421 undocumented people. Around 2.5 million undocumented immigrants have been deported in total since Obama was sworn into the oval office. This marks a 23 percent increase from the Bush Administration. 

And Obama is not done in his work as the “Deporter in Chief.” In 2009, Obama supported a coup in Honduras that further destabilized Central America. Thousands of children and their families fled the chaos and began to migrate to the US from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. The Obama Administration responded by conducting a series of raids on "family units," which were defined as mothers and their children traveling together. These ICE-led raids detained nearly 70,000 "family units" from 2013-2015. Over 7,000 children have been ordered for deportation without a court hearing and many more continue to live tortured lives in both public and private detention centers.

The question of immigration is ultimately determined by the prevailing social order of US society. The US government is a warfare state controlled and operated by servants of the capitalist ruling class. Some migrants, such as undocumented workers from Mexico and the Central America region, better serve the profits of the capitalist class if their existence is criminalized. The criminalization of undocumented immigrants allows corporations to pay lower wages and the state to bar the undocumented from public subsidies despite paying billions in taxes into them. The policy of border repression and deportation also aids in the racist division of "native" workers from super-exploited undocumented workers. Finally, border militarization and the deportation regime provide a market to the only industry experiencing growth in the US: the war industry.

“The criminalization of undocumented immigrants allows corporations to pay lower wages and the state to bar the undocumented from public subsidies despite paying billions in taxes into them.”

In the 2016 elections, the masses of people in the US are confronted with the false choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.  Donald Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric has positioned Hillary Clinton as the "progressive" candidate on immigration. Yet Hillary Clinton's immigration record is intimately connected to the Obama legacy. Clinton has championed border militarization and the deportation of Central American children alongside Obama. Furthermore, Clinton also advocated for the bill that both destroyed welfare and escalated the war on undocumented immigrants in 1996 when her husband served as Commander in Chief.

President Obama waged eight years of ceaseless war on the undocumented population. Like Black America, the Latino community stuck behind Obama through the duration of a war that has yet to end. Donald Trump has emerged onto the scene and reignited the debate on immigration with his proposal to build a wall to keep migrants from crossing the US-Mexico border. Yet there is no bigger wall that exists for undocumented migrants than the militarized deportation regime protected and built upon by the Obama Administration. President Obama ultimately betrayed one of his most supportive constituents just as he slighted Black America. That's because Obama's loyalty always resided with war-makers and profiteers, not the people who placed hope in his presidency.

Danny Haiphong is an Asian activist and political analyst in the Boston area. He can be reached at [email protected]